The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery


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2018 Edgar Award Finalist—Best Fact Crime

Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.

When celebrated baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.

Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476796253
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 09/19/2017
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 391,624
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Bill James made his mark in the 1970s and 1980s with his Baseball Abstracts. He has been tearing down preconceived notions about America’s national pastime ever since. He is currently the Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox, as well as the author of The Man from the Train. James lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Susan McCarthy, and three children.

Rachel McCarthy James lives in Lawrence, KS with her husband Jason. She studied creative writing at Hollins University, and her work has previously been featured in publications including Bitch, Broadly, and The New Inquiry. The Man from the Train is her first book.

Read an Excerpt

The Man from the Train
I have long been fascinated by the notion that knowledge can be created about the past. Dinosaurs are the easiest example. For tens of thousands of years, humans had no awareness that the world had once been inhabited by gigantic beasts. Now, we know not merely that these animals existed, but we have identified hundreds of species of them. We know what they looked like, generally, and what they ate. We know which type of dinosaur lived where, and in what era. We know what happened to them. We have not merely created this knowledge, we have disseminated it so widely across our culture that the average five-year-old now can name a dozen types of dinosaurs, and has a collection of little plastic models of them.

In my day job I am a baseball writer. We know many, many things now about the baseball players of the 1950s and 1960s, about Willie Mays and Bob Gibson and Stan Musial, that those men themselves did not know and could not possibly have known when they were playing. We have pieced together records of their careers that are far more complete than the records which were kept at the time. Modern historians know things about the Romans that the Romans themselves did not know and could not have known.

A hundred years ago and a little more, there were a series of terrible crimes that took place in the American Midwest (although it actually started in the Northeast and the South, the midwestern portion of the series is the well-known part). The most famous of these crimes are the murders in Villisca, Iowa, but it is apparent to anyone who will take the time to look that the Villisca murders were a part of a series of similar events. I was reading about that series of crimes and I had a thought. “I’ll bet there were others,” I thought, “that the contemporary authorities never linked to the same criminal.”

With modern computers, we can search tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of small-town newspapers, looking for reports of similar events.

And I found one.

And then I found another one, and another one, and another one. I hired my daughter as a researcher, and she started finding them. We had no idea what we were dealing with. And we never dreamed that we would actually be able to figure out who he was.

By the time he came to Villisca, The Man from the Train had been murdering randomly selected families for a decade and a half. People had been executed for his crimes; people had been lynched for his crimes; and people were rotting away in prison for his crimes.

Skeptical? Of course you’re skeptical. You’re either skeptical or you’re stupid, and you don’t look stupid. But hear me out. Have I got a story to tell you.

—Bill James

Table of Contents

Preface 1

Villisca 3

Section I 1909 to 1912

Chapter I The Bloody Penny 7

Chapter II Logan's Turnpike 16

Chapter III The Scandalous Schultzes 22

Chapter IV Marshalltown 28

Chapter V The New Orleans Axeman 39

Chapter VI Which Is Not Really a Chapter 43

Chapter VII Martin City 44

Chapter VIII The Casaways 56

Chapter IX Oregon 66

Chapter X The Double Event 81

Chapter XI Monmouth 88

Chapter XII Ellsworth 93

Chapter XIII Paola 104

Section II Summer 1912

Chapter XIV Villisca 2 121

Chapter XV Villisca 3 129

Chapter XVI Villisca 4 144

Chapter XVII Villisca 5 166

Chapter XVIII Dynamite Pfanschmidt 182

Section III 1900 to 1906

Chapter XIX Stepping Backward 199

Chapter XX Trenton Comers 208

Chapter XXI Standing by Henry 217

Chapter XXII An Uncertain Set of Names 230

Chapter XXIII Just When You Thought This Story Couldn't Possibly Get Any Uglier 233

Chapter XXIV Hughes 250

Chapter XXV The Christmas Day Murders 255

Chapter XXVI West Memphis 265

Chapter XXVII Jacksonville 268

Chapter XXVIII Cottonwood, Alabama 271

Chapter XXIX Murder in the Cold 276

Chapter XXX The Worst One Ever 284

Chapter XXXI The Lyerly Family 291

Section IV

Chapter XXXII Hiatus 309

Chapter XXXIII The Crimes of 1908 319

Section V

Chapter XXXIV Conversation with the Reader 333

Chapter XXXV Hurley 353

Chapter XXXVI Beckley and Beyond 364

Chapter XXXVII The Zoos and the Hubbells 373

Chapter XXXVIII Clementine Barnabet 381

Chapter XXXIX Harry Ryan 415

Chapter XL The First Crime 420

Chapter XLI Brookfield and Villisca 435

Chapter XLII Where the Evening Is Spread Out Against the Sky 444

Chapter XLIII Hinterkaifeck 456

Acknowledgments 461

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